Does Rick Perry have a prayer?

Ford O'Connell Chairman, CivicForumPAC
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For part of August and just about all of September, Texas Governor Rick Perry enjoyed frontrunner status in the race for the GOP presidential nomination. But after a series of dreadful debate performances and some terrible messaging gaffes (e.g., immigration and Social Security), Perry now finds himself between a rock and a hard place in the latest Gallup poll (released Oct. 10).

Desperate to right the ship, Perry has been given the equivalent of a political mulligan, thanks to some strong fundraising numbers and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s decision not to enter the 2012 Republican fray.

Given all that has gone wrong for Rick Perry, does he still have a prayer of winning the Republican presidential nomination? Yes, here’s why:

Few GOP voters are truly paying attention. Contrary to the Beltway media chorus and despite the strong viewership numbers posted by a slew of nationally televised debates, few Republicans are actually paying attention to the motley crew that comprises the GOP primary field. Case in point, less than 48 hours before tonight’s Bloomberg News-Washington Post debate in New Hampshire, Associated Press scribe Steve Peoples found that New Hampshire GOP primary voters had difficulty naming the candidates in the field and that “only 11 percent said they have definitely settled on a candidate.” At first glance, I might be inclined to chalk this up to the Boston Red Sox’s September swoon, but something tells me that Peoples’s findings are not endemic to New Hampshire (a perceived Romney stronghold), and that the battle for the GOP nomination is still relatively open.

Herman Cain’s rise is directly related to Rick Perry’s demise. Prior to and immediately after Perry’s wretched performance in Fox News’s Sept. 22 Orlando debate, Herman Cain was polling at just under 10 percent of the vote while Perry was checking in at close to 23 percent, according to political stat whiz Nate Silver. Now, Cain is clocking in at nearly 21 percent of the vote, while Perry has fallen to about 12 percent. But here’s the kicker, Mitt Romney has not really made any gains in the polls. Therefore, if Perry wants to become a GOP frontrunner again, all he really needs to do is win back Herman Cain’s newfound support. But don’t take my word for it, just ask Mitt Romney, who is already imploring voters to vote for Cain if they don’t find his candidacy all that appealing.

Some Republicans just don’t trust Romney, at least not yet. Politico’s top story on Monday morning concerned Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith. But as Gallup noted in June, Romney’s religion is not really an issue for Republicans; well, at least not as much as it appears to be for Democrats and independents. So, what seems to be the primary gripe that a sizeable swath of Republicans are having with the former Massachusetts governor? According to The Washington Post’s Perry Bacon: “There is a key bloc of Republican voters … [who] are hesitant about Romney because they simply do not trust his conservative credentials, recalling his past support of abortion rights and a health-care mandate.”

Perry is running out of time to turn things around. Without question, he needs a solid debate performance tonight at Dartmouth College and an even stronger performance in next week’s CNN debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, if he wants to become the Republican Party’s presidential standard-bearer. Only time will tell if Perry can make good on this second chance.

Ford O’Connell is the chairman of CivicForumPAC, editor of The Political Quarterback and an advisor to conservative candidates.